From Hitler’s Berlin to Beechworth, Ernest Marcuse’s works to hang at the Burke Museum
When Ernest Marcuse fled Germany for Australia during World War II, he never thought he would be recruited by the Australian military as an artist.
- Ernest Marcuse spent time at the Bonegilla Migrant Center before building a new life in Australia after WWII
- Works by the German artist are on display at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian War Museum
- More than 20 works will be on display at the Burke Museum in Beechworth later this year
Unlike the thousands of migrants who walked through the doors of the Bonegilla Migrant Center outside of Wodonga in search of a new life, Marcuse found himself there as an employee.
And it was during this time that he captured many landscapes for which his work is known.
Marcuse, who died in 1985, has works at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian War Museum and soon 25 pieces will be on display at the Burke Museum in Beechworth.
Son Peter Marcuse said his father showed artistic ability from a young age and still has pieces his father painted when he was a teenager.
“He studied art at two well-known institutions in Berlin and became a press artist,” said Peter.
Peter said that two months after Hitler came to power in 1933, his father received a letter saying he could no longer be employed because he was Jewish.
“It was that simple,” he said.
He spent the next five years anonymously illustrating children’s books for a living.
In 1938, he moved to London where he stayed for seven months, before settling in Australia as a refugee.
“When he got to Australia the first thing he did was contact the newspapers for work,” said Peter.
Marcuse was employed by The Argus, but a little over a year later received a letter stating that due to his background he could no longer be employed in a classification such as the newspaper.
He was able to continue working as a commercial artist but the Australian military wanted to use his talents.
“He was considered a stateless person, but because they wanted to use his talent, they reversed his status and he was appointed to a post at the Bonegilla Officer Training School,” said Peter.
“He was there for about 12 months in 1941-42 employed as a personal artist.
While employed as an illustrator for the military, in his spare time he camped in northeast Victoria.
Among the landscapes he captured were the Kiewa River and the Hume Lake Dam.
In 2019, several of Marcuse’s Bright and Wandiligong landscapes painted in the 1950s were part of an exhibition at the Wangaratta Art Gallery. Some pieces are now on permanent display.
“From what the Indigo Shire Council and the Burke Museum have said ‘my God, we need some of the work relating to our regions,’” said Peter.
Later this year, an exhibition at the Burke Museum in Beechworth will feature 25 works of art.